Thousands of people from across the nation gathered in Emmitsburg this weekend to pay tribute to fallen firefighters.
The 37th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend was a chance for families, friends and colleagues to grieve and honor their loved ones killed in the line of duty. The names of each of the 80 firefighters killed in 2017, along with the names of 23 firefighters who died in previous years, were added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
Chief Dennis Compton, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation board chairman, welcomed the guests to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg where the memorial is located. While many firefighters are uncomfortable with being called heroes, he said, the women and men who serve embody all the qualities of a hero — commitment, pride, courage and compassion.
“The men and women we are honoring today are not heroes because they died,” Compton said. “They became heroes to the people in their communities the day they signed up to be a firefighter. And you — their family and friends and co-workers — are also heroes because you supported their willingness to serve.”
Compton thanked those who had gathered on Sunday for the memorial service on behalf of the foundation.
“It is our privilege to be here for you, who have lost so much,” he said.
During the service, the name of every firefighter was read aloud and a flag, badge and rose was presented to family members or colleagues. Each of the 103 flags presented had been flown over the U.S. Capitol. Three Maryland firefighters were honored over the weekend.
Captain Sander Cohen, of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, was killed on Dec. 8, 2017 when he was struck by a vehicle on Interstate 270. Cohen was assisting at the scene of a disabled vehicle. The 33 year old became a volunteer firefighter at the age of 19.
Charles Gentilcore was a 23-year veteran of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services. The 52-year-old Bowie resident died suddenly while on duty on April 7, 2017.
Christopher Staley was a member of the Cobb Island Volunteer Fire Department and EMS. Staley died at age 22 when attempting to save a drowning victim at Wicomico Shores Yacht Club on Aug. 6, 2011. In 2014, the Cobb Island Bridge was dedicated in Staley’s honor.
The three names of the fallen Maryland firefighters will be added to the list of more than 5,000 present at the memorial, which was built in 1981. More than 1 million firefighters are currently serving throughout the United States.
Representative Steny Hoyer reminded the crowd that behind every name on the memorial are people who are grieving, not matter how much time has passed. This is why communities must continue to support them, he said.
“This year, as we honor those we have lost, we remember when the family of firefighters lose loved ones, that loss is felt powerfully for years and years after the death,” Hoyer said.